have traditionally been trusted by both children and adults as reliable
and accurate sources of information. The rapid growth of online
services and Internet access has added a new dimension to modern
computing. Through a computer modem and phone line children now
have access to an almost endless supply of information and opportunity
for interaction. However, there can be real risks and dangers for
an unsupervised child.
online services give children resources such as encyclopedias, current
events coverage, and access to libraries and other valuable material.
They can also play games and communicate with friends. The ability
to "click" from one area to another appeals to a child's natural
impulsivity and curiosity and needs for immediate gratification
parents teach their children not to talk with strangers, not to
open the door if they are home alone, and not to give out information
on the telephone to unknown callers. Most parents also monitor where
their children go, who they play with, and what TV shows, books,
or magazines they are exposed to. However, many parents don't realize
that the same level of guidance and supervision must be provided
for a child's online experience.
cannot assume that their child will be protected by the supervision
or regulation provided by the online services. Most "chat rooms"
or "news groups" are completely unsupervised. Because of the anonymous
nature of the "screen name," children who communicate with others
in these areas will not know if they are "talking" with another
child or a child predator pretending to be a child or teen. Unlike
the mail and visitors that a parent sees a child receive at home,
e-mail or "chat room" activity is not seen by parents. Unfortunately,
there can be serious consequences to children who have been persuaded
to give personal information, (e.g. name, passwords, phone number,
address) or have agreed to meet someone in person.
of the other risks or problems include:
accessing areas that are inappropriate or overwhelming;
information that promotes hate, violence, and pornography;
being mislead and bombarded with intense advertising;
being invited to register for prizes or to join a club when they
are providing personal or household information to an unknown
spent online is time lost from developing real social skills.
order to make a child's online experience more safe and educational,
parents should consider the following:
the amount of time a child spends online and "surfing the web";
a child that talking to "screen names" in a "chat room" is the
same as talking with strangers;
a child never to give out any personal identifying information
to another individual or website online;
Teach a child to never agree to actually meet someone they have
give a child credit card numbers or passwords that will enable
online purchases or access to inappropriate services or sites;
a child that not everything they see or read online is true;
Make use of the parental control features offered with your online
service, or obtaining commercially available software programs,
to restrict access to "chat lines," news groups, and inappropriate
for an e-mail address only if a child is mature enough to manage
it, and plan to periodically monitor the child's e-mail and online
a child to use the same courtesy in communicating with others
online as they would if speaking in person -- i.e. no vulgar or
profane language, no name calling, etc.; and
that a child follow the same guidelines at other computers that
they might have access to, such as those at school, libraries,
or friend's homes.
should remember that communicating online does not prepare children
for real interpersonal relationships. Spending time with a child
initially exploring an online service and periodically participating
with a child in the online experience gives parents an opportunity
to monitor and supervise the activity. It is also an opportunity
to learn together.
with permission from the FACTs sheet series of the
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
P.O. Box 96106
Washington, D.C. 20090
distribution of single Facts sheets is a public service made possible
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and materials designed to educate parents, families, teachers, caregivers,
and others about the mental illnesses affecting nearly 12.5 million
children and adolescents in an effort to de-stigmatize these illnesses,
promote early identification and treatment, and encourage funding
for scientifically based research.
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